He is famous for his unconventional and distinctly Filipino designs. His exceptional architecture transformed the native bahay-kubo from a house associated with trivial rural folk, to an edifice depicting the nation’s unique ancestry and culture.

An Architecture graduate of the old UST College of Architecture and Fine Arts in 1953, Francisco or Bobby Mañosa is the genius behind the historic Edsa Shrine, the Coconut Palace, and the Metro-Rail Transit.

To give tribute to the man who redefined the bahay-kubo, the Varsitarian interviewed him in his cozy, native-inspired office in Pasig City.

Childlike enthusiasm

For Bobby, architecture is more than a lucrative enterprise, it is a craft and a life. Young architects aspire to become like him. But in spite of his almost legendary status, Bobby remains childlike in his enthusiasm towards his work.

“I love this work because it’s fun!” he said. Being in the business for quite sometime, his work still remains as thrilling and fresh as it was before. Every project is like a new piece of artwork, unique, and fascinating.

When it comes to conceptualizing and planning projects, Bobby compares himself to a painter. For him, before any stroke of brush, an artist must have already conceived the masterpiece in his mind. Before a single line is drawn, a structure is created.

Laughingly, he recalled how frustrated his father was over his indecisiveness. Originally , Bobby wanted to become a musician and a painter. But like most high school students, Bobby was uncertain of what course to take up in college. He thought of taking up painting or violin. Until finally his father suggested architecture. “It’s still artistic and creative. So I took it,” he said.

Indeed, Bobby’s father played a big role not only in his choice of career, but also in his nationalistic ideals. A sanitary engineer of the Metropolitan Water District, his father instilled in him and his brothers a deep love for country, a love that he himself is now imparting to his own children.

Following in his footsteps, his son Angelo also pursued architecture. “Like all the great architects who has a son in their office, I also have a son to take over someday.” But Bobby still has no plans of retiring. Nevertheless, it’s a great comfort to him that his son will be there to continue what he has started.

Vision to actualization

The famous Amanpulo Resort in Palawan manifests Mañosa’s unique brand of architecture—it utilizes local lumber, pawid, sawali, and kugon.

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For him, Filipinos should utilize the bountiful gifts that nature provides.

Moreover, Bobby looks up to American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, a proponent of organic architecture and the Earth style.

That’s why in his work, Mañosa follows a three-A formula: awareness of the materials available to us; acceptance of these materials; and assimilation of these materials in our lifestyle.

His work attitude is really incredible. “Sometimes I even forget to eat on time,” Mañosa said.

He also travels all over the country to oversee sites for potential projects which makes him forget time. He said that whenever he is in the office, he rarely sits down. He goes from room to room, consulting with the 38 other architects of the firm.

From scrap to landmark

During the colonial period, it was the westerners who dictated architectural trends and designs. The Spanish period saw the distinct design of the bahay-na-bato or the Antillean houses. When the Americans came, the architectural designs shifted to the Mediterranean mode and art deco design. Along with these changes, the native bahay-kubo lost its luster, and with it, the Filipinos’ cultural identity.

Many people today consider the bahay-kubo a dwelling place of the poor. Those belonging to the upper bracket of society consider it outdated or backward, belonging to the farms and to remote provinces.

Everyone dreams of owning a house like the French Chateau or the Swiss and Mediterranean Homes—all Western.

In the West, “the functions of the house follow its shape.” But to Bobby, Philippine architectural form follows fashion, not function. Filipinos, according to him, are copycats. The loss of Filipinos’ identity as a nation is among the many concerns of Bobby. And bringing back the bahay-kubo is his way of helping the country regain its pride and culture.

“My vision, my sentiments, serve as a wake-up call for everyone, a call for awareness,” he said. With this philosophy, Bobby involves himself in many housing projects with the government to improve the lives of the poor. He was also responsible for restoring countless old churches and historical landmarks like the Las Piñas Bamboo Church and the Malinta Tunnel in Corregidor.

Experimenting on a variety of native materials, Bobby uses coconut, cogon, wood, stone, clay, rattan, and even banana leaves. This can be observed in his well-known designs like the Coconut Palace, Banana House, Bamboo House, and the San Miguel Corp. Bldg. in Pasig. These majestic works gave him countless awards: “Most Outstanding Las Pinero,” Award in Architectural Design from Perpetual Help College of Rizal (1996); “Kalakbay” Special Award given by the Department of Tourism (1994) for his outstanding contribution in the promotion and development of Philippine tourism; “Golden Award in the Field of Architecture” (1989); and “Architect of the Year Award” from the Manila Comission in Arts and Culture (1982).”

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When Pope John Paul II visited the Philippines in 1982, Bobby was commissioned to design the altar and the Papal chair in Luneta. The bahay-kubo inspired concept pleased the Pope that he was later knighted as “Noble Knight of the Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great.” He considers this his greatest honor. Apparently his father received the same award 34 years earlier, from Pope Pius XII.

Culture, modernity, and globalization

Bobby is firm in his conviction that the country should retain its cultural individuality especially in architecture—no matter how “hi-tech” the world might get.

The world teems with diverse cultures and unique architectural styles, which makes Mañosa worried of the Philippine architecture’s capability to be global. And, in order to promote Filipino culture globally, he designs Filipino-styled houses in Sydney, Malaysia, and even in the Caribbean.

“Architects must also design based on climactic conditions,” according to Bobby. For him, imitation of Western architecture doesn’t make sense when their design is obviously not fit for the climate in the Philippines. The glass-buildings in Makati for example, are suitable for colder places where people do not have to use venetian blinds to block sunlight from seeping through their workplaces.

When it comes to technology, Bobby believes that, “When you buy technology, you buy culture.” According to him, technology should complement and not dictate our lifestyle. It should be tamed to produce the materials that can become Filipino. Together with a man named Medilen Singh, Mañosa was able to smoothen the rough contours of the bamboo pole into a smooth, ply-wood-like floor panel.

At first glance, Bobby’s designs may appear flamboyant and eccentric, but these contain the modern conveniences of technology. In his own distinct way, he was able to blend practicality with aesthetics through the materials he uses.

“My philosophy is to bring back the bahay-kubo and this philosophy will be in continuity,” Mañosa said.

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At the moment, his firm is working on a project which will be a hospital twice the size of Makati Medical Center. Of course, the project will still be in line with his bahay-kubo concept. Sometimes, he even turns down clients who commission him to do Western styles.

Working longer

“I have not reached the end. I am just beginning in my practice. I wish I could have 100 more years to learn.” Today, Bobby remains a pervasive figure in the Filipino architectural world. When asked what work is he most proud of, he said he has none because he believes in giving his best to each of his projects.

Incidentally, his firm will be launching “Designing Filipino”, a book on Architecture, this August. Having great hopes for this project, Bobby said the book will contain philosophies and ideals his firm upholds. “This book will someday become a bible for architecture students.”

Edible landscapes and steadfast visions

“Bahay-kubo, kahit munti, ang halaman doon ay sari-sari..” Bobby sang these words unabashedly when the conversation shifted to landscapes.

For Mañosa, Filipinism extends to the landscape as well. Again, landscaping should focus on whatever is abundant. Being a tropical country, the Philippines is agri-oriented, Mañosa pointed out. It is not suitable to dream of British and California gardens. Our natural plants possess an exotic and wild beauty that depicts the tropical climate of the country, he said.

Mañosa also emphasized the practicality of planting edible plants in the Filipino backyard. Aside from making the landscape beautiful, plants like the Papaya and Banana can be consumed.

Towards the end of the interview, Bobby disclosed an important philosophy that has served as a driving factor behind his work. “Architecture must be true to itself, its land, and its people.” Many of his colleagues think that what Bobby is doing is wonderful. Some of them are starting to believe in what he has started. But up to now, many are still close-minded and skeptical about the importance of the bahay-kubo.

But in time, acceptance will follow. It takes great courage and guts to go against the dictates of society. What Mañosa has done is remarkable. He started alone as a rebel in a seemingly lost cause. Only an unwavering pride and a deep-seated love for his country kept him going and brought him to where he is right now.

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